Foodie Friday: Calculating the Climate Impacts of What You Eat


I came across this great little tool on the New York Times today. Basically, you select the items most similar to what you ate the day before, and it tells you how much climate change impact your meal that day had relative to other Americans.

So yesterday I had cereal with milk and dried fruit for breakfast, leftover tuna salad on a sandwich for lunch, and pasta with cheese and peas for dinner. So I selected yogurt and fruit, tuna on a roll for lunch (was that one right on or what?) and pizza and salad for dinner.

Basically, it was a no-red-meat day, but I did have some fish. At this point I’m eating red meat maybe once every two weeks. This meal selection put me in the ‘medium low’ group, I think because it’s low on meat but still high on dairy.

The tool is super fun to play around with, because you can select different items to see what would make your meal contribute more or less to climate change. The basic takeaway from the whole exercise is in the article that shows up after you make your selections, and reads:

“‘To make the biggest individual difference, people should focus on three things,’ Dr. Rose said. ‘Eat less beef or ruminants, don’t overeat and don’t waste food.’”

I had to look up “ruminants,” and if you want red meat to seem less appetizing I suggest you read all about it, because the definition is “an even-toed ungulate mammal that chews the cud regurgitated from its rumen.” Nothing like learning you’re eating a multi-stomached animal that chews its own vomit to make your own stomach turn.

ANYWAY, changing one meal away from dairy and toward tofu would put me in the ‘low’ group, while a steak dinner zips me all the way to the ‘high’ contributor to climate change group.  In fact, no matter what else you eat in a day, if you’re eating steak you’re in the top group.

Obviously this tool doesn’t calculate how much food waste you create, or if you overeat, which are the other two big impact differences.

Another interesting fact from the article is that 20% of the U.S. population contribute 41% of all food-related emissions nationwide. This is pretty striking and shows just how much impact giving up at least some red meat could be if everyone did it.

Like a lot of things climate-change related, it’s also crazy how much more the U.S. contributes to negative impacts relative to other countries. So yeah, can’t really pat myself on the back for giving up most meat most of the time given that comparing myself to the average U.S. resident isn’t all that impressive.  Also should be thanking Hinduism for encouraging vegetarianism, or else the whole planet would be in way worse shape than it already is…